(In theaters, May 2009) Since I have decided that the Terminator series ended at the end of the second film, I’ve been able to consider all the multiple spin-offs and retreads with far more equanimity. Terminator 3 was a competent action picture, but nothing more than glorified fan-fiction. This fourth entry, alas, struggles even with the “competent” part: While two or three sequences show some action-cinema skills (ah, that helicopter crash!), the script itself is a load of nonsense compounded by an execution that seems determined to evacuate all ideas of fun from the result. Drab and dreary cinematography reinforce the idea of a post-apocalyptic world at the expense of entertainment: It’s not as if dystopias are rare nowadays, even in the evening news, and the peppy shiny future of Star Trek seems a lot more interesting than the blasted deserts of Terminator 4. As for the story itself, the series is stomping harder and harder on an ever-smaller plot of sand: There are few innovations this time around, and the rules of the series, so well-defined in earlier films, seems inconsistent here. (Sometimes the terminators will answer to loud music, whereas other times it takes a quasi-nuclear explosion.) The logic of the film’s world is nonexistent: The screenwriters would like us to believe that the human resistance uses A-10 planes, conveniently asking us to forget the infrastructure required to maintain such things up and running after a nuclear war and years of attrition. At other times, skyscraper-big terminators manage to silently get close enough to the characters to give them wedgies. And need I ask why the terminators would need to herd humans rather than shoot them on sight like they’ve done so far in the series mythology? Also; heart surgery in the future is really easy. But the worst thing about the film remains a script that follows dozens of characters without really committing to any of them. Christian Bale growls his John Connor while Moon Bloodgold makes enough of an impression to warrant a film of her own, but few others are worth remembering. Elsewhere, plot threads are raised and dropped incoherently, but there’s little of the tight human element that made the first two movies such classics. Oh well; it’s all fan-fiction whenever James Cameron’s not involved anyway.